Tales from the Terminal Room

February 2005, Issue No. 60

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Tales from the Terminal Room ISSN 1467-338X
February 2005, Issue No. 60
Editor: Karen Blakeman
Published by: RBA Information Services

Tales from the Terminal Room (TFTTR) is a monthly newsletter, with the exception of July and August which are published as a single issue. TFTTR includes reviews and comparisons of information sources; updates to the RBA Web site Business Sources and other useful resources; dealing with technical and access problems on the Net; and news of RBA's training courses and publications.

In this issue:

  • Help with Firefox and Thunderbird
  • Search tools
    • Copernic Desktop Search
    • Seekport UK - Search the United Kingdom
    • Google Desktop Search
    • Turboscout
    • Brainboost
  • Information Resources
    • The Government Says
    • Our Property - property and house prices revealed
    • Valuation Office Agency
    • Marketing Surveys Index
    • Google Customisable News
    • Acronym Finder
  • Searching Questions
    • Using current news to kick-start deeper research
  • These things are sent to try us!
    • Gmail hijacked my news alerts :-(
  • Gizmo of the Month
    • NetSnippets
  • Meetings and Workshops
    • Searching the Internet: Google and Beyond (Belfast)
    • Advanced Internet Search Strategies (Manchester)
    • Untangling Your Web: Effective Web Site Management (Manchester)

Help with Firefox and Thunderbird

If you are contemplating switching your browser and/or email client to Firefox and Thunderbird, or have already taken the plunge and want help with commands and functionality there are three forthcoming books to look out for:

Firefox and Thunderbird Garage

Marcia Knous, Chris Hofmann (both employees of the Mozilla Foundation) and John Hedke have written a book about Firefox and Thunderbird. "Firefox and Thunderbird Garage" will be published by Prentice Hall PTR on April 15th (ISBN: 0131870041).

Firefox Hacks: Tips and Tools for Next-Generation Web Browsing

Nigel McFarlane's Firefox Hacks (ISBN: 0596009283) is due out late March. Published by O'Reilly

  Don't Click on the Blue E! By Scott Granneman and published by O'Reilly (ISBN: 0596009399). Due out in April, 2005.

Search Tools

Copernic Desktop Search

Copernic have launched version 1.5 of their Desktop Search tool. Significant additions include support for Thunderbird and Eudora email and attachments, and search in Thunderbird contacts. CDS already supports the Firefox browser. For me, all it needs now is support for Open Office and Star Office files and it will be a worthy competitor to Yahoo Desktop.

Seekport UK - Search the United Kingdom

A new search engine concentrating on UK web sites. The advanced search offers searches for all the words, exact phrase, exclude words, any words as well as domain, web site and linked pages. The Liveseek link shows you what people are currently searching on. Worth a look if you want to focus on the UK.

Google Desktop Search

Google Desktop Search is out of beta and has been officially launched. It is much improved and now searches PDF files. Support for Netscape, Firefox, Mozilla and Thunderbird has also been added. For Open Office and Star Office users there is a plugin at http://desktop.google.com/plugins.html . As well as switching off caching and indexing of secure web pages such as your online bank statement, you can also switch off indexing of password protected pages. All documents still remain in the cache after you have deleted the original unless you follow the remove instructions at http://desktop.google.com/features.html#remove . It is a rather tedious process and not straightforward, and there is a danger that you could miss files, especially individual emails. Personally, I'll stick with Yahoo Desktop for the time being.


This search tool enables you to run the same search on most of the major search tools and meta search tools one by one without having to retype the strategy. About 90 search tools are covered in 7 categories: we, images, reference, news, products, blogs, audio and video. The Reference section includes Wikipedia, FindArticles, Google Scholar and Scirus. The web tab has 23 search tools including Google, Yahoo and MSN but not Exalead, which is one of my current favourites.


I must confess that I groaned when I read the About section on Brainboost: "Brainboost uses Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing techniques to go the extra mile, by actually answering questions, in plain English." And then "Brainboost, Using the AnswerRank™ system, intelligently reads hundreds of web pages..." Search tools with similar claims have failed to impress me in the past, but Brainboost is an exception. The blurb goes on to explain that Brainboost is an answer engine whereas Google is a Search engine and it really does try to present you with just relevant extracts from the search results.

There is also a "voting" link (a thumbs up graphic) next to each extract so that you can tell BrainBoost when it gets it right. This enables Brainboost to learn from previous questions and user votes and to automatically improve over time.

That is the theory. In practice it had no problem with my queries on who directed the duck hunt cartoon (answer: Tex Avery), which US presidents were assassinated (answer: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy) and which UK prime ministers were assassinated (answer: Spencer Perceval). However, it found "Who is Karen Blakeman?" more difficult to answer:-( Brainboost came up with some 3 year old information on a course I was running at the time in London, and "Karen Blakeman is chairing the Concessions Committee, and will be needing LOTS of help here". You bet I will! I know nothing about the Concessions Committee - obviously another Karen Blakeman. The regular search results taken from a range of search tools fared better on the last one.

Worth a look and an interesting alternative answer/reference tool to answers.com.

Information Resources

Government Information

The Government Says

The Government Says is an interesting site that pulls together news releases from various UK government departments. Produced and maintained by Democracy.org.uk - "a loose collective of like-minded individuals who believe that there is little wrong with UK society that a healthy mixture of transparency and public engagement won't fix." RSS feed available.

Property/Real Estate

Our Property - Property and house prices revealed

This is one of the many services that repackages the Land Registry's data but this one offers users 20 free searches a week and also covers Scottish property. You get to see the address of the property, the date it was sold and how much it was sold for. It does not give the name of the owner or the name of the lender. For that, you have to use the Land Registry's priced service. At present, the data for England and Wales goes back to 2000. Data on Scottish property sales goes back to 1998.

The quick search on the home page enables you to search by post code but you can refine your search or use the Advanced Search to limit your results by street, town or locality, freehold/leasehold, house type (detached, terraced, flat etc.) and date. If you use up your 20 searches you can top them up either by recommending a friend for 5 free searches or by signing up to a weekly newsletter which contains a voucher for 20 free searches.

Valuation Office Agency

Property market reports (available free of charge) giving a statistical overview of residential and commercial land prices around the UK, down to district level. The site also has information on valuations and bands for Council Tax, both domestic and non-domestic. I found this very useful when I was carrying out some "due diligence" for a client and wanted to check out the status of the premises of a business they were contemplating buying.

Market & Industry Research

Marketing Surveys Index

This site enables you to search a catalogue of over 65,000 reports from 1,200 publishers, and buy online. It includes links to free and low priced market research reports. The site focuses on European and Asian research and includes non-English language reports. Priced pay-as-you-go service.


Google Customisable News

Google now has an option on its News pages enabling you to customise your news. You can move sections around and add your own personalised news sections by typing in keywords.

I really like:

  1. Being able to rearrange the sections
  2. Being able to delete sections
  3. Being able to set up my own news sections using keywords (sort of "mini-alerts")

What is missing is:

  1. Not being able to get rid of "Top stories" or move them to somewhere else on the page
  2. Not having access to all of the usual news advanced search features on screen when setting up key word sections, for example location of source, source etc. They are available but you have to know the commands.
  3. The fact that it will not automatically display all of the new articles on a subject whereas the email alerts will give me every new story on a daily basis or "as it happens".

The layout and personalisation is saved using cookies. You can also share your customisation with a friend or colleague by emailing the URL of your customised page.


Acronym finder

A really useful searchable database of more than 401,000 abbreviations and acronyms about computers, technology, telecommunications, and military acronyms and abbreviations. "The Acronym Finder is not a glossary of terms, web search engine, dictionary, or a thesaurus -- it is only designed to search for and expand acronyms and abbreviations."

Searching Questions

Using current news to kick-start deeper research


Following the Indian Ocean tsunami, I heard someone on the radio say that the Indo-australian plate is splitting up. I would like to learn more but my searches keep coming up with hundreds of learned articles about how the tectonic plates were formed and split over millions of years. All worthy stuff but not what I was looking for. Even limiting the search by date does not help.


The clue to tackling this search effectively is that the topic is current news. You did not say which radio station it was but it is always worth checking their web site to see if they have any background on the story. If not, then there are three free current news services that I always try in these circumstances: Google News (http://news.google.com/), Yahoo News (http://search.yahoo.com/) and MSN News (http://www.msn.com/).

All three came up with stories - all different - when I searched on indo-australian plate and gave the names of researchers and institutions in Australia that are looking at this. Quite a bit of information was supplied in the articles themselves but if you wanted to take it further you could search the institutions' web sites, or see if any of the researchers' papers are available in Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) or via FindArticles (http://www.findarticles.com/).

These things are sent to try us!

Gmail hijacked my news alerts :-(

I have been using the Google news alerts ever since they were launched. It is a fantastic service and means that I can have all the latest news on my favourite topics sent to my main email address.

Just over a month ago I was invited to set up a Gmail account, which I did. I don't use it much but thought it might be useful when signing up to services that don't have clear, unambiguous privacy policies. If or when the processed luncheon meat starts to arrive I can just ditch that Gmail account.

I log in every 2-3 days and for the first six weeks or so everything was fine. Then I noticed that my main email address was rather quiet on the news alert front. I was not unduly concerned - probably some delay on the mail server or perhaps maintenance at Google News. Then I logged onto my Gmail account and saw to my horror that *all* of my news alerts were in the Gmail inbox. Worse still, when I tried to log into my alerts account using my main email address I was told that there was no account under that name. Gmail had unilaterally, and without my permission, decided to transfer all of my alerts to my Gmail account and to delete my original alert account.

To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement.

I thought I may have inadvertently changed the email address for the alerts but the FAQ quite clearly states that you cannot do that. So I deleted all the alerts from the Gmail account, reset up an alert account under my rba email address, and started redoing all of my alerts.

I tried to contact Google asking them to explain how and without my permission 1)My news alerts were diverted to my Gmail account 2)My original alerts account was deleted. My first attempt ended up with an email telling me I had sent my request to the wrong place. I followed their instructions and resubmitted my "feedback" and received the following: "Thank you for taking the time to report this issue. While we aren't able to respond directly to your report, we're working on these issues. Thanks so much for alerting us to the problem."

I was not so much fuming as about to erupt with supervolcano ferocity.

In discussions with other Gmail users a couple of people said that they found that new alerts were automatically set up under their Gmail account. Further investigation revealed that this was dependent on whether or not one is logged in to the Gmail account when setting up the new alerts. None of them, though, had had existing alerts diverted. We have attempted to replicate my experience but have failed dismally.

At the time of writing, I have had no response from Google other than the autoresponder messages. I appreciate that Gmail and Google News are both beta but I really would like to know how on earth it happened so I can take precautions to try and prevent it happening again. In the meantime I have given up using Gmail.

The FAQ on Alerts says in response to the question "Can I change my email address and still get Google Alerts?", "Sure. But you'll need to delete your current alerts and re-enter them using your new email address." Perhaps what I have experienced is a new "feature" - beta of course. You can move your alerts to any email address as long as it is a Gmail address!

Gizmo of the Month



NetSnippets is a tool that enables Internet users to save, organise and manage search results and web based information locally on their computer and to generate reports.

The free edition saves and manages text, images, links and entire web pages. The information can be organised into folders of your choosing and you can add your own comments and notes. You can also share that information with others.

The Standard and Professional editions (priced US $79.95 and US $129.95 respectively) have additional options for selective capture of information, editing snippets, adding keywords and custom fields, integration with MS Word, generating abstracts, creating contents pages and indexes, and generating bibliographies using MLA, APA or Chicago style. A comparison of the three editions and their features can be found at http://www.netsnippets.com/compare.htm

Requires Windows 98/2000/ME/XP and can be used with Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Mozilla Firefox, and Netscape browsers.

Meetings and Workshops

Workshop: Searching the Internet: Google & Beyond
Organiser: UKeiG (formerly UKOLUG)
Presenter: Karen Blakeman
Venue: Regional Training Unit, Blacks Road, Belfast
Date: Thursday, 14th April 2005
Course fee: £130 + VAT - UKeIG.  Others £160 + VAT.
URL: http://www.ukeig.org.uk/

Workshop: Advanced Internet Search Strategies
Organiser: Manchester Business School
Presenter: Karen Blakeman
Venue: MBS, Manchester
Date: Tuesday, 26th April 2005
Course fee: £215 + VAT - BIS/BINN members.  Others £250 + VAT.
URL: http://www.mbs.ac.uk/bis-training

Workshop: Untangling your web: effective web site management
Organiser: Manchester Business School
Presenter: Karen Blakeman
Venue: MBS, Manchester
Date: Tuesday, 17th May 2005
Course fee: £215 + VAT - BIS/BINN members.  Others £250 + VAT.
URL: http://www.mbs.ac.uk/bis-training

TFTTR Contact Information

Karen Blakeman, RBA Information Services
UK Tel: 0118 947 2256, Int. Tel: +44 118 947 2256
UK Fax: 020 8020 0253, Int. Fax: +44 20 8020 0253
Address: 88 Star Road, Caversham, Berks RG4 5BE, UK


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Copyright (c) 2005 Karen Blakeman. All rights reserved

This page was last updated on 18th March 2005  Copyright © 2005 Karen Blakeman.
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